Crime is a disease, an iron hand is the cure

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It’s ‘Inday Sara’s’ turn to warn criminals

By Germelina Lacorte
Inquirer Mindanao
First Posted 19:43:00 07/03/2010

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—“I’m young, my ego is close to zero, so please call me Inday Sara.”

Sara Duterte, Davao City’s youngest and first woman mayor, was addressing a crowd that swelled at the City Hall grounds during her oath-taking rites on June 28.

Wearing a coral-blue gown and matching earrings, the 32-year-old daughter of tough-talking former Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, smiled and hugged supporters, who stayed after the ceremony to have their pictures taken with her.

Inside the mayor’s chamber, a teary-eyed barangay kagawad (council member) hugged Sara after a break with media practitioners. “Our whole family gave our all-out support for her in the last elections,” Fatima Lao said. “We were so happy she gave our daughter a job.”

Winning over her father’s longtime political rival, Speaker Prospero Nograles, by an overwhelming margin of 200,000 votes in the May 10 elections, Sara is the third Duterte to serve public office. Her grandfather, Vicente, was governor of the undivided Davao in the late 1950s, while her father had been mayor for over 20 years and earned a reputation for his hard stance against criminals.

Rodrigo ran for vice mayor and won in the last elections.

Sara used to shun her father’s political life until 2007 when she ran for vice mayor and won with him. In her inaugural speech, she acknowledged that she never really wanted to be a politician at all.

Lollipops in clinic

“At 6, I was mesmerized by the lollipops in the clinic of Dra. Rosa Cabrera, which started my greatest ambition to become a pediatrician,” she said. At 21, she studied to be a doctor but found that biochemistry was “not simply about lollipops” and that her only other choice was to be a lawyer.

“I never wanted to be a politician, but today I speak before you as city mayor,” said Sara, a law graduate of San Beda College. “Life is not about insisting on what we want. It’s about accepting and aligning with our higher purpose.”

Duterte’s political group, Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod, enjoyed an overwhelming victory over its closest rival, the Nograles camp, in the last elections. Hugpong members dominate the 27-seat city council.

Nograles has filed a protest at the Commission on Elections in Manila questioning the election results and claiming a “conspiracy” between local poll officials and Duterte.

Unquestioned rule

With father and daughter at the helm of the city’s legislative and executive branches, the Dutertes will practically lord it over the city government for another three years. Some view their win as ushering in another era of unquestioned rule in the city.

Rodrigo has earned the ire of human rights groups for his implied approval of extrajudicial killings of alleged drug pushers and criminals in the city.

In a 2009 report, “You can Die Anytime,” the international group Human Rights Watch pointed to a close link between the killers and the police based on testimonies of witnesses and relatives of the victims. Some of the victims were merely “mistaken identities,” it said.

Last year, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) conducted a series of public hearings on the killings. Its chair, Leila de Lima (now newly appointed justice secretary), had said that the Davao Death Squad was one of those issues which “affected” her most during her stint because of the “negative public reaction” of the city people.

“It was not just a reaction but also resistance to the investigation that CHR was conducting,” De Lima said in an interview with an online magazine. “Most people, I could see and I could feel, welcome the kind of stance exhibited by the mayor. It affected me because I wanted to do something right but we are not getting the right public support,” she said.

Anticrime drive

Upon her assumption, Sara gave assurance that she could act independently and not become a mere stamping pad of her father. But she hinted that she was not going to change the way the city was dealing with criminals.

Vowing to be “useful and to serve the country at all times,” she renewed a warning against criminals. “City Hall will continue to deal with criminals the way they were dealt with before,” she said during a press briefing.

Not all killings are “extrajudicial” in nature, Sara said. “I sincerely want to serve our city, I hope I can make a difference,” she said.